Publication Date

April 2001


[Excerpt] In recent years, tuition has similarly continued to increase by more than inflation. However, during the 1980s real income growth stagnated in the United States. As a result, tuition as a share of family income increased. Data for Cornell University illustrate this point but the story is the same for the average selective private institution in the nation. Between 1966-67 and 1979-80 Cornell tuition remained roughly 26 to 28 percent of median family income. By 1992-93 it had risen to 49 percent. During the mid-1990s, median family income again began to increase in real terms and the ratio stabilized. However, the damage had been done. The public’s concern that college costs were taking a greater share of the typical family’s income was magnified by the rapid run up in endowments that accompanied the booming stock market of the 1990s. Families wondered why the selective institutions had to raise tuition at all?

In Tuition Rising: Why College Costs So Much, I argue that there are a number of forces, in addition to the ones Bowen discussed, that continue to put upward pressure on tuition at selective private institutions. These include their aspirations, our “winner take all” society, their shared system of governance, recent federal government policies, the role of external actors such as alumni, local government, the environmental movement and historic preservationists, periodicals that rank them, and how they are organized for budgetary purposes and select and reward their deans. Today I will focus on shared governance and the key role that trustees play.


Suggested Citation
Ehrenberg, R. G. (2001) Will trustees tame tuition? (CHERI Working Paper #10). Retrieved [insert date], from Cornell University, ILR School site:

Required Publisher Statement
Published by the Cornell Higher Education Research Institute, Cornell University.